Could EC decide future of Lagoa dos Salgados?
Flamingos at the lagoon in 2010. Photo: ALGARVE RESIDENT
Several environmental and wildlife protection groups have lodged formal complaints with the European Commission (EC) in a bid to save Lagoa dos Salgados, a well known birding sanctuary and natural lagoon, from becoming a concrete jungle.
Officially agreed plans that allocate the placement of a 247 hectare touristic development on the grounds of one of the only remaining untouched stretches of Algarve coastline is causing uproar among the population and several environmental groups.
Protestors objecting to the decision made by Silves Mayor, Isabel Soares, who signed for the development’s construction on June 22, are now taking strong stances against the project, developers Galilei Group and its Algarve subsidiary Finalgarve.
Algarve environmental protection association Almargem was first in line to lodge a formal complaint to the EC on June 29, opposing the Praia Grande development plans and encouraging the Commission to instigate a Special Protection Area (SPA) at Lagoa dos Salgados in order to prevent construction from going ahead.
Their appeal contains an in-depth look into the reasons behind why the area should have long ago been classified as an important, protected bird sanctuary and wildlife area. Such classification would stop construction of an “unnecessary resort” consisting of three hotels, five holiday villages, shops and an 18 hole golf course.
“Praia Grande is home to one of the last strongholds of the Algarve coast not yet covered in concrete. It encompasses a number of exceptional natural features dominated by the Salgados lagoon,” the association stated.
“The area is already classified as an important bird life zone and in view of the importance to the community of this area, the necessary measures are sought to maintain the conservation of various species of birds and flora.”
Some of the species of birds that can be found at the site include Grebes, Gulls, Little Terns, Coots, Flamingos, the rare Purple Gallinule, Black Terns, Peregrines, Black Winged Kites and Collared Pratincoles.
In an additional complaint to the EC, the League for Protection of Nature in Portugal (LPN) warned this week that an “assault” had been authorised to take place on the Algarve’s coast.
LPN claims that Isabel Soares’ decision to sign off construction rights for the Praia Grande area was “socially and environmentally offensive”, and they believe that “the idea of urbanising this space is shocking and disgraceful”.
Justifying their complaint, LPN president Alexandra Cunha said: “The Portuguese State and the municipality of Silves lack commitment to making this area of marshland into a protected area,” which has allowed for the final stage of the process to be approved and allow for construction work to begin.
Since the project was approved by Silves Câmara in 2007, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has been working against the development.
José Tavares, RSPB partner development officer for Portugal, told the Algarve Resident: “Back then we engaged with the developers and also Silves Câmara and managed to reduce the scope of this project; the number of beds and area to be built was significantly reduced, and a buffer zone around the wetland reserved for nature conservation were all agreed upon.”
However, as construction plans have now received approval, the RSPB is finding it difficult to find ways of protecting the area.
“There is very little that we can do because the project is legally approved. Finalgarve has all the legal permits to construct their development and so are entitled to do so – wether we like it or not. However, we are all aware of how fundamentally wrong the development is,” said José Tavares. It is now a political decision. The RSPB will help to enforce pressure where needed to prevent this development.
He summarises the ordeal as “a frustrating and sad saga, where public bodies that should protect the public interest, instead are neglecting the site and allow it to deteriorate. No wonder residents are irate. So are we.”
Outraged local residents have been circulating an online notice about the approved building works with hopes of raising awareness about the cause and a staggering 91% of Algarve Resident readers, who voted on our online poll last week, said they disagreed with the decision made by the Silves Mayor to grant construction permission.
Furthermore, the Portuguese Society for the Protection of Birds (SPEA) is also backing the campaign against the construction.
In their appeal, they boldly state that plans to destroy the lagoon are “another sad and dramatic example of how the government neglects and ignores the greatest natural assets of our country.”
SPEA are now calling on elected officials to see beyond the possible financial gains of the project and support citizens outraged by Silves Câmara’s new “money making venture”. The development is expected to generate direct revenue for the Câmara to the tune of €35 million.
The Algarve Resident contacted Mayor Isabel Soares for a comment about the negative reaction the project has generated but was unsuccessful at the time of going to press.
IS GALILEI UP TO THE JOB?
The president of the Galilei Group admitted in parliament last month that the future of the company “is difficult” after a €4 million fine was imposed by the Bank of Portugal for its involvement in the BPN bank scandal; they would have to lay off at least 1,500 employees.
During a four hour enquiry, Fernando Lima, head of Galilei, a company established on the remnants of Sociedade Lusa de Negócios (SLN), was questioned by Members of Parliament (MPs) on June 22 regarding the nationalisation and privatisation of BPN and about Galilei’s current situation.
Lima explained that in a recent notice sent to all shareholders, it was stated that the company’s “future is difficult” and that “the group is viable but has some difficulties to overcome”.
According to Lusa news agency, the president also denied that Galilei’s overall debts amount to €1 billion as it has been rumoured. However, he claimed that the real value of their liabilities amounts to approximately €170 million.
A recent press statement from Silves Câmara indicated that the Galilei Group are only financially liable for the first stage of the development which includes general infrastructure, road access to the area, water outlets and sanitation and construction of one hotel. The Galilei Group intends to attract investment – some foreign – as the development grows. However, suspicions now abound as to whether or not the group will be able to pull this off.
SALGADOS WITHOUT A LEG TO STAND ON
Due to the lack of legal standing and official titles to protect the area as an ecological reserve, the Salgados lagoon has been forced to face a fate of immense proportions.
It appears that nothing can prevent the pillaging of this tranquil lagoon. In 2008 the SPEA expressed concern for the site, as water levels dropped to an alarming level, creating difficult conditions for the birds feeding there.
Allegedly, the ever decreasing water levels were due not only to the sparse amount of rainfall in the Algarve, but also as the result of a neighbouring golf course, believed to be draining areas of the wetland’s water to irrigate their golf greens.
SPEA’s appeal resulted in a reaction from the Algarve Hydrographical Administration (ARH). The ARH publicly stated that they would be taking measures to ensure that water levels at the lagoon would be maintained. However, the measures from ARH were not implemented and areas of the lagoon are now nothing more than stretches of cracked, dried up earth, reducing the available wading and feeding area for the birds.
The company Águas do Algarve also proposed to carry out basic sanitation work (estimated to be valued at €1 million) at the site, to ensure that natural lagoon water standards were adhered to.
Regrettably, the much needed maintenance was not carried out as permission from “dominant authorities” was not given.
The area previously rich in wildlife now faces decimation and, as it stands, there appears to be no entity which can overrule the current situation.
PROTESTERS UNITE ONLINE
A petition against the destruction of Praia Grande, circulating online among local and international citizens and environmentalists, is attracting much support.
The petition, called “Save Salgados, a unique internationally recognised birding sanctuary, from being destroyed”, aims to reach a total of 40,000 signatures before being sent to the Minister for Economy, Álvaro Santos Pereira.
Frank McClintock, who created the petition, says in an online appeal to members of the public: “I do hope that we can raise awareness so that we have a chance of saving Lagoa dos Salgados.”
Since initiation late last month, the petition has received several thousand votes; however to achieve the 40,000 signatures there is still a long way to go.
The Algarve Resident is calling for you – yes you – to support this petition and to show that you care about the environment in this lovely part of Portugal.
To sign the petition, please visit the following address to register your name: www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Save_Salgados_a_unique_internationally_recognized_birding_sanctuary_from_being_destroyed/